Rufous-vented Ground-Cuckoo sightings! by: Kevin Easley
During a February 09 tour with Jim and Beth Dewilde from Michigan we were very fortunate to find one of the rarest species in Costa Rica, that being the elusive Rufous-vented Ground-Cuckoo. After many days of rain on the Caribbean side of the country we found ourselves at Heliconias Lodge in the NW. It rained on and off all night but fortunately we awoke to a fairly nice morning and soon were walking the trails of the lodge. Birds were active and we noted Broad-billed Motmot, Cinnamon Woodpecker, Spotted Antbird, Nightingale and Song Wrens, White-ruffed and Long-tailed Manakins in the fruiting trees, and several other nice species. Our luck got better when I was pointing out a Gray-chested Dove and Jim noticed a Tody Motmot well hidden in the understory. A couple of hundred meters down the trail we came upon a Ruddy Woodcreeper, then a Northern Barred Woodcreeper…and I knew we had us an army ant swarm nearby. We waited patiently noting Spotted, Bicolored, and Ocellated Antbirds but have to admit that I was hoping for something a bit larger. I saw something scamper under a bush and after a couple of minutes it ran back out – the distinctive roadrunner like shape zipped across my bins – we had us an attending Rufous-vented Ground-Cuckoo! Jim refound it perched a couple of feet off the ground and we watched it for almost 5 minutes as it preened. This was my first for the country having seen it in Peru and Panama previously but oh how I wanted to see it in Costa Rica.
Jason Horn was guiding a CRG group there a week later and chanced on the cuckoo near where we had seen it. This was just after seeing a male Bare-necked Umbrellabird just minutes before – quite a 1, 2 punch!
Macklin Smith had scheduled a 3 day target trip with me starting at 1:00 PM on Feb 25 and this was his most wanted bird. We changed our itinerary to concentrate our efforts on the cuckoo and drove straight to Heliconias Lodge that afternoon. We awoke to driving rain the following morning and decided to wait it out. It finally subsided about 11:00 AM and we began to pace back and forth along the trail where it had been seen previously, listening for the low growl of antbirds to tip us off to an ant swarm. A Yellow-eared Toucanet appeared, ALWAYS nice, and a Spotted Antbird, but not much else. About 45 minutes later and at the end of the section I had been pacing I saw the cuckoo run across the trail. I turned to Macklin to see if he had seen it and seeing his eyes as big as saucepans I knew he had. We watched it run through the undergrowth a couple of times and then waited patiently. All of sudden it came bursting out of the brush and posed for us in the open giving us great views. As we waited for more views one of the local guides, Henry, came up the trail and announced that he had the cuckoo. I told him we saw it as well and that it was probably still in this thicket. Henry was surprised and then began to tell us that his cuckoo was on the other side of the property and that I could probably get photos. Back by the lodge for my camera and up the trail we went. We were soon at the army ants which were descending from 35 feet up a tree where they had spent the night. Looking into the undergrowth Henry re-found the cuckoo and I was able to get a few photos. I was hoping that my brother Steven, his wife Magda, and our client and long time friend Bart Brown had arrived to the lodge but no silver Isuzu Rodeo in the parking lot. We left the lodge about 3:00 PM and passed my brother en-route. We talked briefly as I wanted them to get up to the lodge ASAP to look for the cuckoo. In talking with them later that evening on the phone they confirmed that Henry had taken them to the swarm right after they arrived and that they had seen the cuckoo. Always nice when you can share your joy of seeing a great bird with others and what a truly amazing bird it is!!!